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Why Failure Makes Us Better

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Why Failure Makes Us Better

“How is it you missed this, Danny? How could you not know the deadline has been moved up? You know this affects two other business units as well.”

What is going on in my head? How did I miss that? Why didn’t I double check this simple detail of a deadline change? The plain and simple truth is I failed.

My story is not unusual – it’s something we all experience at one time or another – failure at work. Painful and embarrassing, it’s an unavoidable part of work and life.

Failure, however, can be productive if you look at it with the correct lens. Damaging mistakes, whether large or small, can present themselves as lessons and provide us opportunities to grow, change and move forward.

After a few choice expletives berating myself, I regrouped and figured out how to turn an awful experience into a success. Here’s how I do it.

Acknowledge that you’re upset

Anger, disbelief and embarrassment are powerful negative emotions usually associated with failure. While most of us would prefer to avoid those feelings, when it comes to failure, the most important thing you can do is own the emotions that come with it.  

No matter what all the business books say about bouncing back from failure – what they leave out is the fact that you need to acknowledge the negative emotions, and the failure that caused them, before you can successfully move on.

So, go for a run, write in your journal or do whatever is needed to process what happened and how you feel. If you don’t – you won’t be able to move forward successfully.

When you wish upon a star…

No matter how much you hope, pray and wish that your failure never happened, it did. None of us want to admit failure, including me, but if you try to ignore it you’re trapped and your failure defines you.

The torture of “What-ifs” can consume you

There is no going back – what’s done is done. The more I dream about “what-if” scenarios the more time and energy I take away from fixing the issue at hand.

Don’t waste time on what-if this or that happened and the fantasy land outcome that “could have been”. It does not change the situation and unless you have a time machine, it never will.

Related: One Difference Between Becoming a Good Leader or a Great Leader

The post mortem will set you free

Figure out where it went wrong and learn from it. In my case the post mortem was pretty quick – I missed a deadline change. Seems pretty straight forward, right?

Wrong. I had to dig deeper and ask myself what led up to me missing the deadline change. I had to ask myself the why of it.

And when I looked closer, I found that a discussion during a meeting about a deadline change was in fact a decision to change the deadline. I never followed up in writing with the decision makers to confirm what, in my view, was simply a discussion. Rookie move on my part.

I learned that any discussion about changing a deadline in a meeting must be followed-up with written correspondence to confirm it.

Get busy fixing it!

As horrible as failure feels, setting it right not only feels better, it builds credibility. Once you have owned it from top to bottom, visualize your plan to make the correction and get busy doing it.  

Don’t wait and run through 25 different scenarios, or make excuses why the failure wasn’t really your fault – fix it!

It is never easy to handle failure, but none of us is perfect, we’re human after all. We make mistakes and whether big or small – we can choose to learn from them or let our failures define us.

I choose the former, I hope you do too.

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